The 20 Most Popular TED Talks

Sandra Zimmer’s Google+

TED Talks provide inspiration and great models for public speaking skills. TED recently shared the 20 most popular talks since TED began.

If you would like a summer project to inspire you to reach for the stars and to develop your public speaking skills, watch all 20 of these, one per day.

If you undertake this project, look for these things:

  1. How does the speaker make you feel?
  2. How does the speaker use stories to illustrate and enlighten?
  3. What is the speech structure used to build the talk?
  4. What is the moment that thrills you?
  5. What is the message you receive?
  6. How can you use your own story and content to craft a similar talk?

Click Here to go to the TED page that contains all 20 Talks.

Watch the 20 most popular TED Talks now.

The thing that all these speakers have in common is a sense of authenticity. Each one has developed a style that is genuine, natural and authentic. More than anything, that is what connects with audiences.

If you would like to develop your own TED-style talk or just want to learn to be comfortable speaking to groups, consider private coaching or joining one of my Group Speaking – Fast Track Programs. Whatever your speaking goals, I can help you develop an authentic style of speaking, based on being who you are rather than who you think you should be as a speaker. You can learn to shine as brightly as these 20 TED speakers!


Steps for Practicing to Reduce or Modify an Accent

Sandra Zimmer’s Google+

I have been coaching non-native speakers of English to improve their pronunciation for almost four decades.  I was trained by Arthur Lessac in the Lessac Method of Voice and Diction.  Thanks to Arthur’s fine training and method, I can quickly and easily identify the sounds of English that non-native speakers need to learn.  It’s also easy for me to teach non-native speakers how to pronounce those sounds in just a few minutes.  Very quickly, my clients learn the mechanics of using their teeth, tongue and lips to form the sounds they need to “reduce” their accents.

Here’s the hard part.  Non-native speakers must not only learn to pronounce the sounds of English, they must integrate those sounds into their speech.  They must be able to use those sounds when speaking English in their daily conversations. It takes regular practice to actually integrate the sounds into their speech.  It also takes considerable time to develop the muscle memory needed for correct pronunciation to feel natural.

My job is first to identify the sounds a particular client needs to learn to modify or reduce his accent and then to teach him to make those sounds. The client’s job is to 1) practice making the sounds, 2) articulate those sounds in words, sentences and reading material, and 3) to integrate them into daily spoken speech.

Here are some steps for learning, practicing and integrating sounds of English into daily speech:

  1. Practice only one sound at a time. Concentrate your attention on one sound that will make your speech clearer. Give plenty of time to that one sound, perhaps a week, even two weeks.
  2. Practice making the sound alone to create muscle memory. Repeat a series of that sound several ways -slowly, fast, in sets of three, with eyes open, eyes closed, sitting, standing and walking. Feel the action of your teeth, tongue and lips as they work to make the sound.
  3. Practice words that have the sound at the beginning, middle and end. Create lists of words that contain that sound. Say your list aloud daily.
  4. Listen to a talk radio station for words that have the sound and repeat the words as you hear them spoken on the radio.
  5. Practice reading new material aloud every day. Read to make sure you are articulating the sound you are focusing on.
  6. When you are speaking, notice how that sound starts to happen more often in your speech. When you can use that sound most of the time when speaking, select another sound and start the process again.

This simple set of steps will gradually transform your speech to be more clear and understandable. Ten to fifteen minutes a day is all you need to improve your pronunciation. Why not start now?

If you think you might want help to modify your accent, reduce your accent or achieve clearer pronunciation, I’d be pleased to speak with you personally. Visit this page for details.  Click here to request a complimentary coaching call so we can talk about your goals and situation and determine if my program is right for you.


How Pronouncing Consonant Sounds Clearly Makes a Non-Native English Speaker Easier to Understand

Sandra Zimmer’s Google+

Learning to pronounce consonant sounds is vital to mastering clear, crisp, intelligible speech. This translates into meaningful spoken communication that is easily understood. Pronouncing consonant sounds clearly makes every word you articulate more precise. This in turn makes your overall message more readily understood by your audience, whether it is a small group or large gathering.

Consonant Sounds are Robust.

Consonant sounds are well-defined. They provide rhythm and percussion to speech. Their robust nature tends to soften your accent. Rather than be distracted by this accent, your audience is more attentive to the message you are presenting. With their robust nature, consonant sounds tend to add definition and emphasis to the important aspects of your communication which makes your overall presentation more easily understood.

Pronouncing consonant sounds with purpose tends to make you pay closer attention to your words so that you slow your speech slightly. This small change in your verbal presentations helps hold your audience’s attention and enhances the general understanding of your message.

Consonant Sounds Give Definition for Easier Understanding.

Consonant sounds are vital for correct articulation of any word. Consonant sounds are generally consistent which makes them the foundation for most words. When you articulate consonant sounds within a word correctly, that word is universally understood which makes your entire communication more effective.

Additionally, when a word ends in a consonant sound and you clearly pronounce that ending, your overall speech has greater definition and quality.

Take a Step Toward Minimizing Your Accent.

Self-Expression Center offers several accent reduction and accent modification opportunities for your convenience:

  • Customized Accent Reduction or Accent Modification Programs for Individuals.

Individual coaching generally consists of 8 one-hour private sessions. Ten to fifteen specific sounds of English that the foreign-born professional is not pronouncing correctly are identified and addressed. The student learns how to articulate those sounds. Sessions may be taken one hour per week or one hour every two weeks to allow the student to practice and integrate new sounds into daily speech. Sessions may also be completed by telephone or by Skype from anywhere in the world.

Customized Accent Reduction or Accent Modification Programs for Small Groups.
Group classes for individuals are offered in small groups of 4 to 6 participants at Self-Expression Center. Participants learn to pronounce the sounds of English that help them be more easily understood when speaking English. For example Asians typically need to learn the consonant sounds of L, R, V, W, N, NG and TH and certain neutral vowels that Americanize their pronunciation. Sandra teaches participants to use their teeth, tongue and lips to form these sounds correctly. They practice in words, sentences, reading aloud. They also practice to integrate the sounds into their daily speech. Group classes are offered for 4 Fridays during lunch time.

If you would like to organize a small group of 4-6 colleagues from your company, organization, or friends, Sandra can tailor a 4 session program specifically customized for your group.

Customized Accent Reduction or Accent Modification Programs for Corporate Groups.
Group classes for corporate employees can be developed to suit the needs of the organization. Groups are most effective when limited to a maximum of 8 people. Sandra identifies the sounds of English that participants are not pronouncing correctly. She teaches participants proper articulation which is positioning of tongue, teeth, and lips, for correct pronunciation. Industry specific terms are used for practicing correct pronunciation.

Make Your Choice for Self Improvement Now. Call 281-293-7070 to request a free twenty-minute accent reduction consultation.


Accent Reduction: Why Pronouncing Consonants is More Important than Pronouncing Vowels

Sandra Zimmer’s Google+

There is no fast and easy way to reduce or modify an accent. If you are going to learn to reduce your accent, it is going to take considerable time and effort to practice.

OK, now I have said it! I don’t mean to discourage you, but I do mean to help you be realistic about reducing your accent.

With that out of the way, I’ll share what I believe to be the most productive and time-effective way to tackle accent reduction or accent modification.

To begin, clarify your goal. The goal should not be to get rid of your accent.  It should be to speak English clearly so people can understand you easily when you speak English with your native accent.

If your goal is to have people understand you, you can limit the amount of time and work needed to achieve the result that is really important – clear articulation leading to intelligibility.

To achieve this more realistic goal, focus on learning to pronounce consonant sounds rather than vowel sounds. Here’s why:

Consonant sounds make speech clear, crisp and intelligible, meaning they make your speech easier to understand. Consonants are easier to learn than vowels. There is usually only one way to pronounce each consonant sound. Once you learn to position your teeth, tongue and lips for a consonant sound, you can insert it into any word and be fairly accurate.

Vowels, on the other hand, are more complicated. In English there is not a single standard for pronouncing each vowel. The “a” letter can be pronounced as many as 6 different ways. That makes learning vowel pronunciation very challenging.

Vowels can also vary in English pronunciation and still be acceptable. Each region of the US pronounces the vowels a little differently. So, a slight mispronunciation of a vowel from non-natives is not much of a problem. Our ears are willing to adjust to hearing the “i” in ‘him” mispronounced as an “e” like ‘heem.” While it is not correct Standard American pronunciation, it does not bother us much.

For all these reasons, the most valuable use of your practice time for reducing an accent is to focus on pronouncing consonant sounds.

My approach to helping a non-native professional speak English clearly is to identify the set of consonant sounds that will make the most difference to his or her speech. I have found that most people only need to learn a few consonants to be more easily understood. Chinese natives, for instance, often only need to learn to pronounce the sounds of N, NG, L, R, TH, V and W. Articulating these few sounds when speaking English makes a remarkable difference in their being understood.

If you are a non-native professional who needs to improve pronunciation, have someone with a trained ear listen to you speak.  Ask them to tell you which consonant sounds you are missing or mispronouncing. Learn to articulate those consonants and then integrate them into your daily speech.

In another post, I will share how I coach clients to practice pronunciation skills.

Below is a 5 minute video of me speaking about my Speaking English Clearly Program.

Sandra’s Video on Accent Reduction Coaching


Accent Reduction: Freedom of Speech for Non-Native Speakers of English

Sandra Zimmer’s Google+

People from all over the world come to the US because of the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy in our country. Freedom of speech is among our most cherished and valuable rights which draw ambitious and educated people to our nation.

Houston, Texas is truly a melting pot for professionals especially in the oil and gas, energy, medical and technology industries. Any meeting at one of the companies in these industries will look like a United Nations conclave. You will see professionals from India, China, Viet Nam, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Russia and Iraq sitting at the table doing business in English. Many of them will have PhD behind their names.

The global brainpower in Houston is exciting and inspiring. However, there is a struggle that many of these brilliant people face every day. Many of them struggle to be understood easily when they speak English.

Because they are smart people, they speak and understand English well enough. Many learned English in grade school in their native countries. Yet, they often don’t know how to pronounce the sounds of English correctly; and, as a result, their accents sometimes cause their speech to be difficult to understand. A too heavy accent poses a real problem for non-native professionals, their employers and clients. As experts, they need to be understood when sharing their expertise. If not, they lose effectiveness and may even lose confidence in their expertise.

The solution for this challenge is only one thing – learning to speak English clearly.  Whether you call it accent reduction, accent modification, diction for foreign-born professionals or proper pronunciation of English, the solution is for non-native speakers to learn how to pronounce enough of the sounds of English correctly so that they can be easily understood when they speak English.

For over three decades, I have been helping non-native professionals learn to speak English clearly. I am not a teacher of English grammar, ESL or vocabulary. I am a voice and diction coach. I simply teach people to articulate the sounds of English that they don’t know how to pronounce. I fell into accent reduction coaching without realizing that was what I was doing. I will tell my story in another blog post, so you can see where my ideas about this area of speech originated.

For now, let me just say that mispronunciation creates a kind of fear about speaking that I help resolve. When non-native professionals feel free to share their ideas, insights and expertise while speaking English with their native accents, the world will benefit. In the coming blog posts, I will share some of my ideas and approaches to help non-native professionals speak English clearly without having to lose their accent.





Happy July 4th! Let Freedom Ring throughout the World! – Sandra Zimmer


 The following post was written by my dear friend and social media expert, Karen Scott Jones. Thanks Karen! 

How often do we reflect on our right to speak freely in this country?  I think we take it for granted that we can say what we feel, but do we?  In our daily presence at home and work do we really speak freely?

Whenever Americans are surveyed about their greatest fears, the fear of public speaking is usually at the top of the list.  How ironic that we have the right to speak our own thoughts and feelings but are afraid to do so.  Communicating and connecting with others is what makes us unique in the civilized world.  It is an intellectual pinnacle that separates us from all other creatures.  

So as we celebrate this special time in our country’s history, let us not forget what countless men and women have fought so valiantly to preserve. … Our right to speak freely! 

If you have not become a speaker, now is the time to learn to add your voice to the mix.  Learning to speak in groups, meetings and presentations is a powerful way to transform your life and the world as well.  If I can help you transform into the powerful and inspiring communicator that you know you can be, visit


Speaking Freely: Pacing: What’s the Rush? or How to Speak at a Pace People Can Follow

There are three things to aim at in public speaking: first, to get into your subject, then to get your subject into yourself, and lastly, to get your subject into the heart of your audience.”  - Alexander Gregg


When you are called on to speak publicly, your job is to relate to your audience.  Maybe you have a particular experience that people would benefit from or perhaps you have a certain expertise that needs to be shared. Whatever the reason, there you are, sharing your thoughts in front of a group.  Do you often find yourself either sailing through it as though you were in a contest to finish the speech in seconds or “hemming” and “hawing” at such a slow pace that it feels as though you will never get finished?  Both scenarios leave your audience feeling disconnected and even worse, having lost their chance to gain anything from your presentation.

You can experience a perfect rate of speech when you stay totally connected with your listeners.  As long as you are connected with people when you speak with them, you feel calm and in the flow. Connect to listeners by tracking their response.  As you speak, pay attention to see your message landing on your listeners.  If you tune into your listeners this way, you will also be able to sense the pace that you need to speak.  The wonderful thing about this perfect speed is that you never feel anxious because you don’t disconnect. 

Here are some tips on keeping the connection and pacing the flow of information to your audience:

1. Don’t expect yourself to hold a whole talk in your mind. That is too much to ask of yourself.  It is impossible to contain the whole talk in your head; and trying to do so distracts you from the moment. Learn to experience and share one thought at a time, trusting yourself to think the next thought in the next moment. 

2.  When you are presenting ideas, try to create the “white space” of silence around your information.  White space is silence that allows your listeners time to absorb what you have said.  It also gives you time to think about what the next thought will be.

3.  Talk with the audience one person at a  time. Have a one-to-one conversation with one persona at a time. This way you are always in connection with one person, so always having a genuine conversation.

4.  Connect to the audience by revealing something real about yourself.  Tell them how you really feel to be there.  If you are nervous, say you’re nervous.  If you feel at home, tell them so.  Find a way to share your present-time experience that is appropriate and does not make a big deal of it. When you connect authentically, you feel safer to slow down.

5.  Don’t be concerned about whether the audience likes you or not. There is no power in that as you can’t control them.  You can only accept them and share yourself with them. Choose, instead to like them. The only real power you have is to choose to love the audience. When you love your audience, you don’t feel anxious and so you don’t rush.

If you tune into your listeners, you will be able to sense the pace that you need to speak and they will tune into you! Next time you speak in a group or meeting, try one of my suggestions and let me know the results.


Speaking Freely: Why is Authenticity Important for Public Speaking?

Sandra Zimmer’s Google+

“Your degree of comfort is directly related to your willingness to be real. Only when you are authentic will you feel comfortable and confident.”

The reason that authenticity is important is that our degree of comfort is related to our degree of authenticity. The more willing we are to be genuine with our expression, the more comfortable we feel with ourselves.

Conversely, our fear and anxiety is locked up in our reluctance to be real with our thoughts and feelings. People who are anxious and uncomfortable in the world are simply not giving themselves permission to be genuine. They somehow believe that it is unacceptable, maybe even dangerous to be real. Often they have had experiences where being real was not allowed or supported, so they have learned to hide or mask their real selves from others.

The habitual behavior of masking authentic feelings and thoughts shows up as stage fright and fear to speak in front of others.  This is the reason so many people say fear of public speaking is their number one fear.  The tension that gets stirred up at the center of attention is the tension needed to prevent real feelings from being expressed.  It is the tension that protects them from being seen for who they are.

When you can drop the mask, you begin to feel free to share your real thoughts, feelings, insights and awareness with others.  Only when authenticity is allowed can you truly heal stage fright.



Speaking Freely: What is Authenticity? How Does it Help Public Speaking?

Developing a greater sense of authenticity is an important key to unlocking stage fright and fear of public speaking. To transform stage fright and fear of public speaking, you must learn to be comfortable being who you are in front of other people.

In a real sense, the tension associated with stage fright comes from fear of being authentic because it is fear of letting people see your real feelings in front of other people. If we can get clarity on what it means to be authentic, we can move towards developing a style of speaking that allows us freedom to be genuine.

In the first session of my group speaking course, I ask participants to define authenticity. Most people say, “Authenticity is being real or being genuine.” Many say it is “being who you are.” Then I ask, “But what does it mean to be real and genuine or to be who you are?” At that point, people hesitate, unable to go further with the definition.

I like to dig a little deeper to define authenticity more specifically. Here is what I think authenticity means. Authenticity means that your outer expression matches your inner reality. That is, you express what you are thinking, feeling, perceiving and believing internally to some degree in what you say and do. Authenticity is giving yourself permission to express your inner life genuinely to the outside world of other people. It is permission to feel your real feelings and think your real thoughts and share those with others in some way that seems appropriate to the relationship and situation.

If you can find the courage to allow yourself an authentic style of speaking, then much of the tension around speaking dissolves. When you are no longer holding onto a style that is based on being who you think you should be, you relax and become real. It may take a little time and some experience, but you can become a speaker who really touches other people, simply by being yourself!

Join the journey to authenticity by contacting me at .


Alan Rabinowitz: How a Severe Stutterer became the Voice for African Wild Cats


Alan Rabinowitz could not talk to people at all, but he could talk to animals fluidly. He promised his childhood pets if he ever became a fluid speaker, he would speak up for the animals of the world.

I heard Alan tell his story about being a severe stutterer as a child on the MOTH Radio Story Hour. His story thrills me!

With great effort, he conquered his stuttering. He grew up to become a researcher of wild cats like jaguars and tigers.

His story about becoming a voice for animals ends with a heart-stopping confrontation with a beautiful jaguar that will take your breath away!

If you feel you have  something to contribute but you have felt held back or if you just love animals, spend 19 minutes listening to Alan’s story on The MOTH website.

Click here  Then click on the LISTEN button.